Welcome to Curious Business

Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
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Friday, April 24, 2009

April Wrap-Up

First, I apologize to my legions of readers for skipping last week’s post. I’m picking away at a complicated, long-range planning topic that’s not ready for prime time. Last week I had nothing else worth saying, and so I said nothing. What a radical concept for a blogger! This week you at least get the month-end wrap-up (yes, I know that there’s nearly a week left in April, but my accounting month ends on the 25th). And so, with a day and a half left in the accounting month, we celebrate another highly successful month.

Total income
: +33%

Total COGS
: +39.2%

: +143.8% (yay me!)

Net Income (Profit)
: -171.3% (ouch!)

The bottom line this April came in $246 below last year because there was an extra payday this year. My year-to-date bottom line is +38% on top-line sales of +33.5%.

My almighty spreadsheet says that Curio City can afford to raise payroll from 18.25 to 18.75% of gross. It’s only $324 per year, but it’s a nice step closer to my ultimate goal of 20%. For reference, payroll started out at 10% and had only grown to 11% by June 2007.

May’s numbers are considerably more challenging. I’ll feel good about the rest of this year if I can bag May’s sales plan.

I shall endeavor to wrap up my Big Post in time for next Friday. If I cannot, maybe I’ll break it down into more manageable chunks.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Too Small to Fail

You see endless reports about banks and insurance companies and multinational conglomerates getting free money because they are, so they tell us, "too big to fail". This might be the first time you’ve read about a company that’s too small to fail. There are businesses in America that scamper unnoticed among the falling dinosaurs, deftly trying to avoid being crushed.

With no debt, no rent, no employees, no insurance, and no utility bills, there are no fixed costs that can put me out of business. Even if sales seized up completely, I could mothball Curio City indefinitely.

Fixed costs include $565 for my Mass. minimum corporate excise tax and annual registration fee. I’d need to pay my CPA $550 to file the tax returns that are too complicated for mere mortals. To keep my address, I’d pay the UPS Store $150. And to keep my phone number, I’d have to pay Verizon $12 per month (the price for an extra phone on my wife’s cell plan). Another $10 per month would keep my credit card processor active. That’s $1,620 per year to continue existing as a business, with most of it going to governments in exchange for nothing. $135 per month is not enough to kill off Kraken Enterprises.

If I want to keep alive the option to resume business at a moment’s notice, I’d also need to add $75 for web hosting and $30 for my security certificate. For $95 Turnkey would keep my Sunshop support current. Renewing my two core URLs would be another $20.

And that’s really about all there is. All of my other costs scale with sales. Kraken Enterprises can only go out of business if I decide that it’s not worth continuing. I might do that if I ever took a conventional full-time job, but the odds that anybody would ever hire me for anything are tiny.

After nearly five years Curio City still doesn’t support me. By that measure it should have failed long ago. Robust monthly sales reports encourage me to stick with it, especially now that the economy appears to be bottoming out. I might change my mind if my wife is still unemployed when her benefits run out, because those unemployment checks are our primary source of income now.
Without that base, I don't think I can continue working for $2.50 an hour.


My web host brushed off my last, vague service complaint because the server log showed no errors, but the site is chronically slow and sporadically unavailable. I think I’m going to have to move to a new host. That will be both disruptive and expensive. The new host will undoubtedly cost more; I’ll have to pay my developer to perform the install; configuring my GoDaddy SSL certificate will be a headache (even the annual renewal is a pain in the ass); and a new IP address harms one's search engine rankings. But over the long haul, it’s probably necessary.

Business roared out of the gate with eight sales last Sunday. Things worsened as the week went on – I’ve only had two sales in the past three days – but I did have another inquiry about a potential large sale. History shows April as a crappy month anyway. Retail analysts say it’s got something to do with Easter being early or late or something. I doubt that Easter affects me directly, so who knows?

Friday, April 03, 2009

It's a God-Awful Small Affair

The exhibition hall’s lobby was nearly deserted when I arrived 45 minutes after the doors opened on the reborn Boston Gift Show. I intended to breeze through the junk aisles in an hour and 15 minutes, have lunch at the food court at noon, then finish off the section where the hand-made and made-in-New England booths cluster in another hour. Instead I walked the entire floor with 15 minutes left before lunchtime. And I wasn’t even rushing.

The Cavalcade of Crap shrank to 10 aisles this year, in a smaller space than before. The first seven of those aisles were the same mass-market souvenir trash that dominates every show. Uninspired jewelry and cutesy crafts filled most of the last three aisles. Even the good-quality stuff didn’t fit the Curio City concept.

Worst of all, there wasn’t enough foot traffic to justify opening the food court’s six fast-food restaurants. I had to settle for a “North End Panini” – a grilled cold-cut sandwich with no visible North End influence, not even made on ciabatta bread – at the Sam Adams bar.

I spent more time traveling to and from the convention center than I did at the show itself. Next time, I think I’ll drive. Assuming that there is a next time; I don’t think they’re doing a fall show this year.

I did place one small order for these little Pewter Desk Cork Pets. I’m not sure what came over me. It was the last aisle, so maybe I just wanted to salvage something from my wasted Saturday. Even though it's a weak Curio City product, maybe it will surprise me. There was one other product with strong potential, but its manufacturer thinks they’re going to sell retailers a $50 item for $37.46 plus shipping. Bzzt!

So I have nearly $400 left to spend and a stack of a dozen catalogs with thousands of dollars worth of stuff that I want. That money will go fast, leaving me one big challenge: I am running out of Mini-Briefcase Business Card Holders (again), and the minimum order is 200 pieces for over $800. Eight hundred bucks is a lot of money to drop on one product, and 200 pieces is at least a year's supply. OTOH, I know it’s a sure thing. I’ve sold hundreds of them.


I haven’t sold a DayClock in ages, despite wasting about $1.50 a day on advertising. No wonder: Competitors are going as low as $35.95 with free shipping, vs. my time-honored $39.95-plus price. Last summer the manufacturer offered cut-rate pricing (which I missed out on -- bitter, me?) and ruined the retail price. In a last attempt to revive this old bestseller, I combined four separate product pages into two, cut my price to match the competition (ouch), and rewrote my ads. I can’t afford to give up free shipping, especially with the lower markup. If these measures revive the product, I’ll accept its reduced profitability. If they don’t, I’ll kill the advertising and give up on it. Too bad; it’s still one of my personal favorites.


Believe it or not – I couldn’t – Authorize.net charged me $14.95 again yesterday. I haven’t used that gateway in two months. In February the person who closed my old accounts wrote: “If you cancel your Pipeline Data account which is linked to Authorize.net, your Auth.net account will be closed as well.” Today she said “We don't cancel the account, the merchant is required to do so due to the security/sensitive information that they need from you.” So I’m out another $15 for nothing? She clarified: “Yes, but I meant, and I apologize for not being clearer, is that you would not be able to utilize your Auth.net account at all if you closed your Merchant account. Some people think that just because they close their merchant account they can still have access to their Auth.net account which is not true.” Which is also wrong; my Auth.net account was still up and running before I canceled it yesterday.

Of course this is the fault of Merchant Express, not Auth.net. I hate dealing with stupid piddly details from other people's screwups. I knew that goddamned bank was going to be a problem when I decided to cut them loose. I’m glad I don’t own an assault rifle. My shotgun wouldn't produce a satisfying enough body count to make the consequences worthwhile.

A dismal week’s sales aren’t helping my mood. Without a surge today and tomorrow, it will be the worst week since I was on vacation last August. April is always a lousy month. I hope this doesn’t turn into a lousy April.

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